At Earlham, what did you major in and in what kinds of activities were you involved?
I self-designed a major that included a lot of biology courses and a lot of sociology courses and called it Human Ecology. I wound up writing my thesis on environmental education. I was a Bonner Scholar and volunteered at the Richmond Friends' School. I was also in concert choir all 4 years. I went on the 1999 (or was it 1998?) Southwest Field Studies program, which I think was the foundation for the career path I took after graduating.
What did you do right after graduating from Earlham?
Immediately after graduating I went to the Bahamas on the Marine Biology May term. After returning from that, I went home to Maine for a few months and eventually got a job as a "science teacher" at a camp-style nature school that brought school groups in for 5 days at a time. I did that kind of work for a while, and then did a year of Americorps teaching energy and climate change education in schools. After that I moved to California, where I got a Master's in Environment and Community Ecology and wrote my thesis on the environmental justice impacts of climate change. I think I thought I would move more toward the policy side of environmentalism, but apparently nature education is in my bones because I immediately landed a job as the Education Director of a coastal education non-profit in northern California, and stayed in that job for the next 6 years.
What are you doing now and what is awesome about it?!
I currently work for a school district in Vermont that has its own trail system with 37 miles of hiking trails that connect the schools in the district. My job is to develop curriculum and work with teachers to design field experiences on the trails and facilitate their use of the trails as an outdoor classroom. I spend a lot of time outside learning about nature with kids. I think that place-based nature education is very important for helping kids develop a love and appreciation for the natural world, and it helps them become better stewards of the environment as adults. It's also just good for their general well-being and mental health. I have seen schools and districts starting to make local natural places their own in this way, and I think it is awesome that this district has gone so far as to develop their own trail system. It's even more awesome that I get to be the one to take the classes out on them!
One area of interest that I have currently is finding ways to help kids with disabilities get out into nature and have the same experiences as everyone else. My son was recently diagnosed with muscular dystrophy (a progressive muscle disease), so this was the catalyst for me to begin paying more attention to accessibility and nature. He loves being outside and loves science, and I want him to have the same opportunities to explore nature as all other children, even once his mobility is challenged. Once I started paying more attention to this issue, I realized that there are a lot of kids missing out on field trips and time outside in general because they are in wheelchairs or have physical mobility challenges. Time in nature can also be of particular benefit to students with special needs like ADHD, autism or sensory processing disorders. I think it is very important to find ways to make nature education accessible to every student and that is an area of focus for me moving forward in my career.
One suggestion I always give students and interns that I work with is to find ways to volunteer or get involved with the kinds of organizations with which you hope to find jobs. The field of environmental/outdoor education can be competitive, and it really helps to network. Volunteering is a great way to get your foot in the door, particularly at non-profits, and these volunteer jobs can also help build your resume and help you begin networking.
If you are interested in Maggie’s line of work, you can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org